Dear Hollywood, Do Better: Asian Feelings on Asian Representation


Where I grew up I was lucky enough to have a South-Asian Community here in North Carolina, but not everyone is lucky enough to have that. Asian immigrants settle in nowhere-nothing towns all the time, usually for a lack of money, having just crossed an ocean to get here to the US. Asian people without cultural support circles look to the screen to understand themselves and see something they resonate with when most people cannot be that for them.

Even those as privileged as I am, with my own community specific to the region of India my family is from, have never been able to see themselves in the media. Asian Media is considered a niche cult classic type subgenre or some kind of odd oxymoron. On the rare chance I see an AAPI person in films, they are propagating some kind of stereotypical caricature of what some ignorant white  writer sees us as, with no redeeming character development. Growing up what we saw only enforced this intense internal pressure to be the model minority, to be perfect, because everyone was either betting against you or on you, with no in between. Seeing confirmation on screen  creates a solidified, bastardized notion of yourself.


Racist caricatures in Media are one of the main sources of propagation because everything you learn, you read, you hear, you see. From Sixteen Candles to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to Aladdin (1992), all these films have something ethically immoral to them and all you have to do is scratch the surface to find it. 

Sixteen Candles along with its obvious homophobia and sexism does everything but race face(1) to make an Asian foreign exchange student the butt of every joke. At every entrance of Long Duk Dong ( a name that not only makes his existence a joke, but also smashes 2 Chinese last names and 1 Korean, Bangladeshi, or Indian last name together) a gong is played, truly cementing the notion that Asian people are not American people. 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before shows a half-Korean family being raised by a single dad but the three half-Korean sisters are played by two half-Chinese actresses and a Vietnamese actress. Seems to be expected that the casting could only nail the half-white requirement for  the characters. In the first film in the franchise the main character, Lara Jean Covey, is obsessed with the romance of Sixteen Candles, simply overlooking the extremely racist Long Duk Dong. Yes, LJ probably did this as  a coping mechanism in order to block out the thoughts of what the world sees Asians as, but throughout the film Sixteen Candles is mentioned as an epic romance and not what it so obviously is, a losing lawsuit in 2021.

As for South-Asian representation, Hollywood is doing no one any favors. In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Jones visits an Indian king who has an ancestral delicacy ready for him:  Chilled Monkey Brains. Indian food is often depicted as unappealing. In India, eating monkeys, though, is largely frowned upon, since they are very close to humans biologically, it is unhealthy, and it is sacrilegious . In Hindhu culture, Hanuman(2) is an epic superhero-like God who defeats evil demons with his hammer and is a role model to many Desi children. This mockery and exotification of Asian people further alienates Asian immigrants as Americans.

Aladdin(3) is a wonderful movie on all accounts except representation. The cast is a sea of white actors except a singular Filipina actress, Lea Salonga, playing the singing voice of Jasmine, the Arabian Disney princess. In the opening credits Arabia is  introduced by a storyteller singing “It’s barbaric/ but hey/ It’s home.” Lyrics like these create a narrative of shame for immigrants of their beginnings as well as creating a notion that Asian people could not possibly belong in the US. Asian representation makes a point of deliberately telling Asian people they are dangerous and not welcome.

Good representation is hard to come by, but it isn’t much to ask. What most every racial minority needs from the media is not anything special, just the same treatment. Movies can be movies without being “that white movie”, but in the blink of an eye Crazy Rich Asians quickly became “that Asian movie.” With the normalization of Asian media, “bad Asian movies” should just be badly written, directed or produced movies, not something just short of propaganda.



  1.  Parading in make up and clothing to look like/ mock another race from your own.
  2. Hanuman is a follower of Rama (an earlier incarnation of Vishnu, the God that embodies everything) and a warrior who defeats demons. In countries with large Hindhu populations Hanuman is often treated like a superhero with fables and graphic novels written of his adventures. He is a semi divine Monkey-Humanoid with a large hammer.
  3.  It is a common misconception that the Arabian peninsula as well as everyplace considered the “Middle East” is not a part of Asia. The “Middle East” is a right-wing political term used against  South-West Asian people to  make Brown people synonymous with violence and terrorism.